World champions Argentina rested Lionel Messi but still enjoyed a comfortable 3-0 win over 10-man Bolivia in La Paz on Tuesday to maintain their winning start to South American World Cup qualifying. But Marcelo Bielsa’s Uruguay suffered a setback, giving up the lead to end with a 2-1 defeat at Ecuador. Messi, who has had a hectic schedule with his club Inter Miami, watched his teammates from the bench but was not listed as a substitute, having complained of tiredness after scoring the winner in Thursday’s 1-0 victory over Ecuador.
Despite the absence of their talisman, Lionel Scaloni’s side had too much firepower for Bolivia with goals from Enzo Fernandez, Nicolas Tagliafico and Nicolas Gonzalez securing the victory.
Chelsea midfielder Fernandez went close with a wonderful effort from 30 yards out that was heading into the top corner before Bolivia keeper Guillermo Viscarra tipped it over.
Viscarra then did well again to keep out a near post drive from Julian Alvarez, who had taken advantage of some sloppy defending.
The lively Alvarez had a hand in Argentina’s opener in the 31st minute, feeding Angel Di Maria, whose low cross was turned in by Fernandez, who had made a perfectly timed run into the box.
Eight minutes later, Bolivia’s task got even tougher when Roberto Fernandez was sent off for an over-the-top challenge on Cristian Romero.
Argentina went in at the break with a 2-0 lead after Tagliafico met a floated Di Maria free-kick with a header that looped over Viscarra.
The three-time World Cup winners were in total control after the break with Alvarez hitting the post in the 70th minute and Viscarra kept busy by efforts from Rodrigo De Paul and Di Maria.
Fernandez wrapped up the victory seven minutes from the end with a left-footed drive after more hesitant defending from the home side, who have lost both their opening games.
Scaloni was pleased with the performance given by his team saying they were “not afraid to play with the ball and also offered an explanation for Messi’s absence.
“Leo was not ready to play, he tried to recover, but he did not feel comfortable,” he said.
After an impressive start to his reign in charge of Uruguay, Argentine Bielsa saw his team lose to two goals from Ecuador defender Felix Torres in Quito.
Uruguay had taken the lead in the 38th minute with Agustin Canobbio collecting a pass from Maximiliano Araujo and turning sharply before firing home.
But the home side levelled just before the break when Felix Torres rose to power home a header from a Moises Caicedo cross.
A penalty award gave Ecuador the opportunity to take the lead after the break but Enner Valencia’s woeful effort from the spot flew wide.
But defender Felix Torres showed his value again, to grab the winner, sliding into a crowded box to turn in a low cross from 16-year-old Kendry Paez.
The decisions proved crucial in Venezuela’s victory over Paraguay.
The ‘Vinotinto’ thought they had the lead in the 78th minute when Yangel Herrera brought down a cross from Jefferson Savarino and fired home, but the referee’s review at the monitor concluded that the midfielder had handled the ball — to the fury of the passionate home crowd.
But the technology worked in Venezuela’s favor in stoppage time when it spotted that Paraguay defender Ivan Piris had handled during an aerial challenge in the box and Salomon Rondon confidently tucked away the spot-kick.
The win will raise Venezuela’s hopes of making a World Cup tournament for the first time in their history.
The qualification process for the expanded 48-team World Cup, to be held in the United States, Canada and Mexico, offers two extra places for South America with six teams qualifying directly.
The seventh out of the 10 nations will head to an inter-continental play-off.
Later on Tuesday, Colombia are away to Chile and Brazil are in Peru.
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